Category Archives: Uncategorized

Who was Heather Heyer?

It is inevitable that the Charlottesville attack and its aftermath have become a political football. This is understandable. It’s even necessary, because politics is the mechanism by which government changes its mind, and we could certainly use some change.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget that a real human being lost her life on August 12.

Heather Heyer was 32 years old — my age exactly. She grew up in the little town of Ruckersville, Virginia, north of Charlottesville. A week ago, she was working as a paralegal at the Miller Law Group. She had previously worked as a waitress and bartender.

She lived alone. Her dog, Violet, was named after her favorite color.

Friends and family agree that Heather was a passionate believer in equality. She once broke up with a boyfriend when he disapproved of her friendship with a black man. She had often posted messages of love to Facebook — but this was her first time ever going to a protest. And she was scared to do it.

Her friend Courtney describes Heather as telling her: “I want go so bad, but I just don’t want to die. I’m so scared because these people are so serious.”

Her mother: “It was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard.”

Her father: “With her it wasn’t lip service. It was real, you know.” He added, “She had more courage than I did.”

The car struck her at about 1:42 p.m. local time, an act of deliberate violence. Many others were injured.

The man charged with her murder lives less than an hour away from me.

Heather’s father told reporters, “I include myself in … forgiving the guy who did this. I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’ … I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts.”


You’re welcome

Jason told his friend, “I wish I had an easy way to remember the fourth thru sixth days of the week, and months seven thru eleven.”

His friend said, “WTF JASON!”

What do you want?

In Babylon 5, there’s a really shady dude named Mr. Morden. How shady? Well, he works for the Shadows and his name means death, so, y’know, pretty shady.

Mr. Morden would like to talk to you about his Associates.

Anyway, Mr. Morden goes around asking everyone the same question:

What do you want?

Sometimes, people don’t give the true answer right away. Sometimes they don’t even know. It takes time and patience and cleverness to dig up a heart’s profoundest desire.


And then there’s the guy I saw this morning, driving a car whose rear window was emblazoned in gold letters with the following:


That, I thought to myself, is a man who knows what he wants. I had to admire, just a little, the sheer clarity of vision.

Booty n pizza.

Can you and your Associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?

A tale of two adjectives

Childlike and childish both mean “resembling a child,” but in very different ways. A childlike person has the positive aspects of a child: innocent, curious, open-minded; whereas, generally, a childish person has the negative aspects of a child: selfish, impatient, prone to outbursts. (Childish can have the positive meaning too, but it’s uncommon.) They’re not quite opposites, but it’s a stark contrast.

It’s strange how two adjectives can form in a straightforward way from a single noun, and end up in such different places. I was thinking about this recently, and being the kind of person I am, I wondered if there were other examples.

Spoiler: Yes.

Noun: sun
Adjectives: sunny, solar

A pretty simple example. A sunny day has a lot of sunshine (literally), and a sunny disposition means you give off lots of sunshine (metaphorically). Solar, by contrast, is more about the sun as an astronomical body: solar flares, solar eclipses. (I guess the moon’s equivalents would be loony and lunar, although loony means something a bit different.)

Noun: star
Adjectives: starry, stellar, sidereal

Continuing with the astronomical theme, we find that starry and stellar are pretty much equivalent to the sun’s sunny and solar. But star has a third trick up its sleeve: sidereal. This word is more focused on the “fixed stars” and constellations collectively, across the heavens, rather than any single star in particular.

Noun: king
Adjectives: royal, regal

Both words are etymologically related to king, or rather, the Latin rex. Royal means “related or connected to kings (and their families)” in a very general way: the royal crown, the Royal Air Force, royal blood, etc. Again, this is loosely analogous to solar and sun. But regal means “having the dignity or magnificence of a king.” It’s more about the feeling or appearance of kingship, rather than a connection to an actual king.

This is a much subtler distinction than, say, childlike vs. childish, partly because the meanings are more similar to each other, and partly because royal can also (sometimes) have the meaning I just gave for regal, and vice versa. Thanks, English!

Noun: water
Adjectives: watery, aquatic

Aqua is simply the Latin word for water, so these adjectives both come from the parent noun in a straightforward way, just like the other cases.

Aquatic covers anything that’s in or on the water: aquatic plants, aquatic sports, the aquatic sciences. But it doesn’t cover the use of water for other purposes — you wouldn’t use aquatic to talk about, say, water for drinking or for watering crops. By contrast, watery means “full of water,” or soaked, or wet, or waterlogged: watery eyes, a watery grave. Here again, the parallel between sun/sunny/solar and water/watery/aquatic is striking, though not 100% perfect.

Also, The Life Watery with Steve Zissou would just be ridiculous.

Noun: tree
Adjectives: treelike, arborescent

That’s right — arborescent is a word. English has two separate words for “resembling a tree,” and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

There does seem to be a pattern here (putting aside the child and tree examples). Sunstarking, and water all have one adjective that simply means “related to [noun] in some way,” and another that means roughly “full of [noun] or its attributes.” I don’t think I ever noticed that before, not even when I started writing this post — I only made the connection about halfway through. Neat.

By the way, my latest five posts have been: a love poem, an analysis of presidential approval ratings, a system for classifying degrees of fame, nuclear war, and now, the connection between nouns and adjectives. Can’t say I don’t give you variety!

A little shift

Today, for the first time in my life, I watched the idea of nuclear war shift from abstract concept to a thing that could really happen — from concern to fear. Not a whole lot of fear, but still, something that I feel in my gut instead of just my brain.

Can’t say I’m a fan.

I wonder if Mattis has thought up contingency plans for what to do if his boss gets trigger-happy.

A hierarchy of fame

I really have no idea how or why this popped into my head, but a while back I started thinking about levels of fame — what’s the most famous and the least famous you can be, and what’s in between?

Of course in a strictly objective sense you could talk about the numerical quantity of people who have heard of a given person, for some definition of “heard of,” but that’s kinda boring. I’m thinking more about our everyday experiences and expectations.

I’m breaking it down into eight levels of fame. The number of levels is arbitrary, since you could divide it into more or fewer if you wanted to, but this is sorta how it is in my head.

Fame level 8: Incredulity

The highest level. Here, the person is so famous that if a coworker (let’s call him Bob) says he’s never heard of them, I literally will not believe him. I simply assume Bob is lying to me, because it’s unfathomable that anyone could get through life without hearing about this person.

Disclaimer: Obviously there are exceptions — I’m assuming Bob is an adult, is familiar with American culture, has not lost a big chunk of his memory, etc.


  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Albert Einstein
  • William Shakespeare
  • Jesus Christ
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Donald Trump (of course)
  • Batman

Fame level 7: Reassessment

Here, it’s just barely believable that Bob has never heard of the person, but finding this out will make me reassess my whole opinion of Bob. He’s no longer “Bob, the quirky guy who works in HR” — he is now “Bob, the guy who’s never heard of so-and-so.” Any future advice Bob gives me will be viewed with heightened skepticism on the basis of this datum alone.


  • Joan of Arc
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Bill Gates
  • Picasso
  • Josef Stalin
  • Moses
  • King Arthur
  • Darth Vader
  • Robin (Batman’s sidekick)

Fame level 6: Hiccup

In this case, the person is famous enough that, if Bob hasn’t heard of them, it causes a hiccup in the conversation:

“I was reading about X the other day …”

“Who’s X?”

“… oh.” (Really? Wow.) “X is …”

There will probably be some reassessment too, but not as much as for level 7.


  • Isaac Newton
  • Steve Jobs
  • John Lennon
  • Vladimir Lenin
  • John Adams
  • Dante
  • St. Peter
  • Sir Lancelot
  • Jabba the Hutt

Fame level 5: Ambivalence

At this level, I have no strong expectation about whether Bob has heard of this person. I won’t be surprised either way.


  • Elon Musk
  • Carl Sagan
  • H. P. Lovecraft
  • Mark Hamill
  • James Madison
  • Dostoevsky
  • Aaron (brother of Moses)
  • Boba Fett

(Making the list above was slightly depressing.)

Fame level 4: Hiccup

Just like fame level 6, only in this case, I’m surprised that Bob has heard of them.

“I was reading about X. That’s the person who …”

“Yeah, I know who X is.”

“… really? Oh, cool. So anyway …”


  • Randall Munroe
  • Shigeru Miyamoto
  • Sylvia Plath
  • John Tyler
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Ernest Shackleton
  • Emperor Constantine I
  • Miriam (sister of Moses)
  • Mon Mothma

Fame level 3: Reassessment

Parallel to fame level 7, if Bob has heard of this person, I am quite impressed and immediately reassess him as a human being. Generally this means that Bob and I both belong to some little group or fandom, or have some shared interest we can talk about. A person at fame level 3 is still “famous,” but we’re approaching the bottom of that label.


  • Douglas Hofstadter
  • Michael Collins (astronaut)
  • Carl Linnaeus
  • Matthew Arnold
  • Niels Bohr
  • John Jay
  • Cletus Kasady
  • Aeneas
  • Ambassador Kosh

Fame level 2: Explanation

A level-2 person is notable in some regard, but no longer famous per se, except inside some very specific niche. If Bob knows of someone at this level, it’s no longer enough for me to say “Oh, cool,” and move on. I’m going to need an explanation of why he’s heard of them.


  • Lu Xun
  • Jane Espenson
  • Patricia Tallman
  • D. T. Suzuki
  • Emperor Theodosius II
  • Paracelsus
  • Sim Aloo

Fame level 1: Storytime

A level-1 person is a regular person, not the least bit famous. If Bob and I both know this person, we apparently share a personal connection at some level, and I’ll need to uncover the story behind it.


  • My aunt
  • My high school English teacher
  • My roommate freshman year — no, not that one, the other one
  • The dude I used to talk to while I was waiting for the bus sometimes

Of course, these are all very subjective, and I’ve probably misjudged the fame of all sorts of people. But I’m going by what my own personal reaction would be.


The numbers

It’s easy to get the impression that Trump’s supporters will stand by him no matter what he says or does, no matter how crazy his rants are, no matter how childish and incompetent he turns out to be.

Fortunately, the numbers tell a different story.

FiveThirtyEight keeps track of the President’s approval and disapproval ratings using a statistical model that looks at a lot of different polls. Here’s what it shows right now:

37% approval rating, 57.5% disapproval. As for the trend, you can’t tell from that screenshot (which covers a fairly short time span), but approval has been dropping slowly but steadily ever since he took office. 37% is the lowest it’s ever been.

And in fact, when you dig deeper, the data gets even more hopeful.

In other words, Trump approvers are split almost equally between strong and weak support — but Trump disapprovers overwhelmingly feel strongly about it. So Trump is actually doing worse than a 37% approval rating might suggest.

“May you live in interesting times.”